Learning about the homeless, April 6, 2010

I posted the following on my Facebook page a few days ago:

I gave a cell phone to a local homeless guy who I have been helping for the past year. He had asked if he could borrow my cell phone to make a call. I put 60 minutes of time on his new cell phone. Wonder how it will affect his life? I also had to go back to the store to buy him reading glasses as the print was too small for him and me to read the directions on how to get the phone initialized.

Later that night, a friend of mine sent me an email that follows. I am glad others are evaluating their views as I am evaluating mine. There is the email:

Hi Mark,

I thought you should know that your continuous posts about your homeless friend has significantly impacted my view of the homeless.

A few years back I had had a number of negative run-ins over a short period of time with homeless people, usually involving them yelling things at me and my wife as we walked by or watching them behave in a confrontational way with other strangers. I also read a few articles about issues with homeless people, with one particularly horrific story about a guy, father of 2 young kids, who had just yelled at a homeless guy for peeing on his neighbor’s garage and was subsequently stabbed to death. I found myself loathing anyone homeless I came across. It was not a good feeling. I started losing all sympathy and pity and just felt hate.

I’ve seen your posts about your homeless friend and how worried you were for a time when he disappeared. It got me thinking. Here is a man whom I look up to and respect. A man who has so many blessings in his life, two boys of his own to worry about, TKF, Vistage, etc., and the number one thing on his mind (or significant enough to post about) for days was the well-being of a homeless guy. That struck me as significant and it got me thinking. I could use about 30 pages explaining the many trains of thought I went through. I’ll summarize by saying that the conclusion I came to was rather than dwell on the negative impact of homelessness, I would be better off using my brain power to figure out some sort of solution that helps all involved. The basic question I asked my self was why isn’t there more help for homeless people in this country? And why does most of the help come from Churches and the like? The answer I came up with is there’s no money in it. There are a lot of causes that can have a residual payday, whether it be in hard currency or political clout or the like, but the financial investment required to make a dramatic impact on homelessness is huge with no payoff. So I began thinking of how one would attract investors/philanthropists. How do you make getting homeless people off the street profitable, or at least sustainable? I first thought about the people themselves (the obvious starting place). Who are they? What can they do? How did they become homeless in the first place? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a majority of homeless people have some sort of mental illness. Not that they’re all crazy, but something. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll include drug and alcohol addiction in this category. What do people with mental health/addictions need to become productive members of society again? Medical care. Medical care costs money. A place to live. Places to live usually cost money. A job. Usually used to make money, but if they are too sick or destitute or whatever else to work, it makes the rest difficult.

The conclusion I came to was creating some sort of working camp/hospital. There would need to be three basic principals to it. Participates would need safe, secure housing. They would need proper medical care. And there would have to be some sort of occupation for them either on site or close by that would involve creating an actual, marketable product that can generate enough revenue to sustain the camp and all of its resources. I know that’s a tall order. And probably naive in several ways, but my central theme to all of this is that it was your posts and the impact they had on me that have helped me re-evaluate how I view that particular part of society. I no longer feel contempt or disgust when I encounter someone who is homeless. And for that, I thank you!

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